Salomon X-Trail Race: A Dead-End At The Halfway Mark

There were many eye-openers, sometimes quite painful lessons to learn from my first Trail race at the Tagaytay Higlands last Saturday during the Salomon 24K Mountain/Trail Run. Each trail run experience is different for anyone, but some harsh realities are applicable to everyone if, for no other reason, a fair share of caution.

The trails and mountains of the Tagaytay Higlands were daunting and arduous. We ran through muds, ran inside forests, up steep hills, we walked along fenced edges of ravines, we descended with the help of a rope down a steep embankment and the most bewildering part for me was we ran past a huge, agitated and rampaging cow which charged us head-on and once we dodged its bulldozing head, it came back at our backs as we scampered anew saving our arses in the process!

I and the other runners could barely walk on the sideways, laughing out loud recalling this very unusual experience!

Unlike other trail races I joined in the past, this course was well-marked with ribbons and banderitas guiding us into those mazes, the race wasn’t the least bit crowded, it had a friendly vibe, marshals were stationed on very unlikely sections of the forest and they had enough sports drinks and water stations to fill up our hydration bottles without having to worry when the next station will be. Indeed, it was a very well-organized race.

The start

Group Pic before the run

Single tracks at the beginning

The first trail section of the run felt really good as i and other runners had already ran this 6.7 km trail section on a test run a few weeks before. I was picking up tempo quite good although my breathing has always been labored which happens always when running uphill trails. Most of it were single track, rocky, steep and quite technical—you really had to watch your step and go easy on those slippery short down hills.

I ditched my regular trail shoe in favor of my Mizuno Prophecy road shoe that had nice clinging outsoles and performed very well during our test run on these same trails. I thought that it would perform just as well during the actual race on both roads and trails and that I could just coast along with it. Boy, was i wrong! I had forgotten that it had rained several days prior to this race that part of the course had become wet and muddy. I had to stop several times to remove the mud off the shoes and if you didn’t, it felt like you were dragging a pair of military boots.

Well placed signs

A view on what lies ahead

At the 10km mark going towards the main asphalted highway, I was still going on nicely until I felt a sharp twitch of pain on my left heel. I scaled back into a run-walk mode. I then stopped into a road side, sat down to remove some pebbles that were inside my right shoe. When I rose-up to start again, that pain was very sharp and lingering this time, not just on the left foot but it was also creeping into my right heel! My old nemesis, plantar fasciitis had returned!

I was in survival mode for the next 2 kms as I could barely move. The pain, especially on my left heel was excruciating every time I make a step. The pain became unbearable that at the last hydration table on the 12th km mark just before climbing the highest peak of the course, I threw in the towel and informed the marshals that I was going to abandon the race. I had fought the thought of quitting a dozen times during those 2 kms before the half-way mark even if it would take me to walk all the way to the finish but the odds seemed not to be in my favor. This was my first DNF.

With my head bowed, I was driven back on a motorcycle of a security escort to the finish line area where an ambulance was already waiting and I was immediately attended to by the medics.

In summary, even though my run didn’t end the way I wanted it to be, I’m glad I ran it, just the same. Just to be able to feel and experience the struggle of running a difficult course even when injured, is rewarding in itself.

The race was a humbling and learning experience. I had trained on hilly terrain for this race so I thought I was ready to face up the challenge. I had 25k LSD runs on my own. I thought I had adequate shoes that would stand the rigors of the terrain. Apparently, not so. The hills and those shoes eventually got to me and what these two didn’t do, my plantar sure did!

I hope to be back soon and looking forward to the next challenge.

Here are some more pictures of the race:

I was tailing this group

All uphills from here

Long winding trails

At about the 4km mark

At the 2nd half of the trails

Val blends well with his surroundings

Trail Running 101

There is a certain romanticism attached when i try to describe or read the pleasures of trail running. I always get to absorb the high and tranquility of the trails for fresh air leaving behind the chaos and pollution of urban running behind.

To quietly reflect on the beauty of the natural world is a given to those who take their time exploring the trails but for others, it serves as another challenge as we keep our hearts pumping when we join a trail race, no different from the usual grind of a road race.

I’ve been running trails for the past 3 years and the joys of experiencing the change of scenery and the excitement of racing on these parts add to the over-all enjoyment of running. If you’re new to the sport and would like to experience the exhilaration of running in this new environs, there are certainly many ways to enjoy it and it’s best to be prepared to know the ins and outs of trail running.

Last Wednesday, i attended Salomon’s Trail Running 101 lecture at ROX at Bonifacio High Street, conducted by Coach and multi-sport athlete, Miguel “Ige” Lopez and the Philippine Sky Runners. This was a great refresher course for me and whatever romanticism trail running stamped on my consciousness was replaced by wit and humor as Ige Lopez  discussed his travails, victorious conquests and funny anecdotes from his trail running experiences.

This refresher is in conjunction with the upcoming Salomon Trail race happening on the 31st which he endorses as he gave pointers on the basics: what gears to wear, running form, hydration, techniques, trail etiquette and stories of his racing experiences, locally and abroad.

Ms. Janice Tanada, Salomon Brand Manager and Ige Lopez at the lecture

Ige Lopez talks on uphill running

Trails come in different shapes and sizes, that’s the beauty of trail running — every trail is different so its important to learn some basics like trail running form and how to work trails into your normal running regiment.

Here are some tips on the basics of trail running:

What to ExpectWhen You Hit the Trail for an Off-Road Race

By: Martin Dugard

As you might think, a trail race can be quite different from a road race, both tactically and physically. Some words of wisdom regarding race day:

First of all, wear those trail shoes. They’re light enough for racing, but offer the lateral support you need to keep your feet and ankles more stable. Also, a trail shoe has a heavier tread pattern than a road shoe, and offers a toe “bumper” to protect you from bruising.

Start slowly. In essence, a trail race is a whole bunch of people trying to squeeze onto a skinny trail. Which may make you want to start out fast to beat the crowds. Don’t. This will only send you into oxygen debt and sap the energy you’ll need later in the race when everyone else is tiring.

Stay loose. As the race progresses, you’ll find a rhythm. Imagine yourself as nimble and light-footed as Fred Astaire. In this relaxed state, you’ll be less likely to fall and more apt to maintain speed.

Above all, have fun. Trail racing is the most natural form of racing. Indeed, we feel like children as we run through the forest. It’s playtime, and we’re called to it.

Sprint towards the end!

Trail Techniques and Tactics

Whether you are training or racing on trails, think about staying light on your feet. Run as if on eggshells. Also, resist the tendency to favor one leg over the other. A lot of runners start using one leg as the “plant” leg to land heavily on and the other as the “drive” or “push-off” leg. Each leg should do these actions interchangeably. Some other tactics to remember:

Downhills: Run on the balls of your feet, not on your heels. This means less pounding, more speed and greater control.

Uphills: Shorten your stride, and keep your head up and chest forward. Run relaxed and try to find a rhythm that will take you up and over each hill with relative ease.

Corners: To a greater extent than on the roads, trails offer the chance to round a corner and “hide.” Practice bursts of speed when turning corners. Competitors won’t see you accelerate, and will experience a mental letdown when they see you’ve “gapped” them. Include this maneuver as a regular part of your fartlek workout.

Streams: It’s possible to cross a stream while barely wetting your feet. All you have to do is high-step across as quickly as possible, allowing your feet to touch down only for a fraction of a second. Try it. And don’t be afraid to run right through a stream. Too many competitors lose time by halting at the edge of a stream midrace.

Entering the trail

7 Steps to Your First Trail Run

By: Matthew Frazier

1. Find a trail. By far the best way to start trail running is to find a local group of trail junkies and run with them. They’ll know the best trails in your area and help you get started.  Be sure to distinguish between non-technical and technical trails. Non-technical trails are paved, gravel, or dirt roads that are generally easy to negotiate. Technical trails are narrow, dirt or rocky paths offering every variety of challenge that most people associate with trail running.

2. Slow down and take short, quick strides. You can expect to run about 20 percent slower on trails for a given level of exertion than you would on roads. You’ll find steeper hills, more side-to-side movement, and lots of obstacles to deal with. Trail running is most fun when you forget about pace and do what feels good. Shorten your stride so that your weight is over your feet most of the time; this allows you to react quickly and maintain balance. You’ll find that trail running works your core and stabilizer muscles more than road running, so it may help to focus on keeping your core engaged.

3. Don’t be afraid to walk the hills. The surest way to identify a road runner on the trails is to look for the guy who runs past everybody on the uphills, only to be passed again on the downhills. Trail runners know that it’s usually more efficient to walk up the steep hills and conserve energy to make up time on the way down.

4. Scan the ground five to ten feet in front of you as you run. When you’re running trails, you need to pay extra attention to where you step. But you certainly don’t want to be staring straight down at your feet the whole time. Continuously scan the ground a few yards ahead of you while you’re running. As you notice an approaching obstacle, shift your attention to your feet to do whatever is necessary to clear the obstacle. And don’t be lazy—pick up your feet just a little higher than you think is necessary to avoid a root or rock. Too many falls happen due to simple complacency.

5. Keep a distance of ten feet from other runners. If you’re going to pay attention the ground in front of you, it helps if you can actually see it. If that’s not enough reason to keep your distance, trail runners are required to change speeds all the time, rarely with warning. Nobody likes getting rear-ended.

6. Watch out for slippery roots and rocks. If you can step over a fallen tree, root, or large rock, rather than on it, do it. Lots of them are more slippery than they look. And when crossing streams, it’s often safer to walk directly through the water than to try to tiptoe across wet rocks. (You’ll avoid being called names, too.) It’s trail running; you’re supposed to get muddy and wet!

7. Be safe. It’s not called “the wild” for nothing. You know, the common-sense stuff. Whenever possible, run with a friend. Bring a map if you’re running a new trail for the first time. Have a first aid kit in the car, and carry extra food with you for emergencies. Bring along a cell phone if you’re running alone. And know the area you’re running—how to deal with the wildlife, when and where hunting takes place, when the sun goes down, and anything else that might pose a danger.

A Sneak Peek: The Trails Of The Salomon Run 2012

Tagaytay Highlands Resort in Tagaytay City seems like the sort of runners’ paradise that you just put-on a running shoe, venture outside and run anywhere your eyes (and feet) will take you. I most specially love its peaceful ambiance with its slightly cool weather and soft breeze. The roads are wide and open and its hard to get lost even when you venture on long distances.

My experience running on these roads are still vivid, if not spectacular and last November’s Nathan Ridge Run was one of the best road races of 2011! Read my experiences here–>  part-1, part-2 and race.

Yesterday was my first time to set on their trails and they offer a different story as they’re mostly un-tapped, isolated and far removed from any activity, except perhaps as an exit route for the isolated dwellers who venture out for their needs in the city.

I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Primer Group led by Janice Tanada (Brand Manager), Mariel Flores and Laira Legazpi, the same group that staged the Nathan Ridge Run last November to test run the new trails they have mapped for the forthcoming Salomon Trail Run this coming March 31, 2012. The test run was done yesterday, March 17.

I was with about 12 other running bloggers together with some members of the Philippine Skyrunning Association and we were led into some of the roughest terrain, mainly dirt and gravel trails with 
some overgrown bushes and grassy sections. The route was mostly technical, with a lot of challenging rocky, single-track trails, and 
rolling asphalt paths for a change of pace.

The conditions on the trails can be a little more harsh if it would rain and get muddy as some of the sections were at the time but otherwise, the trails are just lovely. We were only made to run the first 6kms of the route which were mostly on trails but if you’re running the 24k race, trails will comprise about 80% of the route.

The actual race is will start and end at the amphitheater of Tagaytay Highlands and according to Janice, the 24 km race course is the toughest race course ever set up in Tagaytay Highlands.

The magnet for this particular trail run on March 31 must have been so overwhelming that all 1,000 slots for the 6k, 12k and 24k have been sold out, as revealed to us by Janice! So if you’re one of those fortunate runners to register early and are running on these trails on the 31st, here’s a sneak peak for what’s in store for you. I’ll see you there!

On the way to the trails

Passing by one of the last rest houses before our descent began

The trail starts here

Voyage unto the wilderness

Run! That's what we did in the beginning and CJ shows how

The Running Atom (Pedz) moving in his short-shorts

Bob and Banjo watching their steps on a series of downhills

Nice to have those shades when runners most need it. It was blazing hot outside

Most of the trails were single-tracks, from soft ground to the very technical surfaces

On one of the open spaces somewhere along the mountain ridges

Nice way to commune with nature

Janice (r) of Salomon Philippines with teammate enjoying a break

Philippine Skyrunners Assoc.

A narrow path just covered with leaves. Don't run if you're not sure where your threading

Taking some pics just before tackling those uphills

Taking a break with a view of the village below

Another view over-looking another residential village

Past coconut husks

The Salomon recon team

No end to those rolling trails

Banjo leading the charge

Another rough road to pass

Among the mostly single-track trails

You won't miss this view at KM3.5

A break before heading home

The Running Atom wears his Salomon shirt proudly. Team Diadora, take note!:-)

Lunch waiting for us at the Club House

With our charming tour guide at Tagaytay Midlands

24k Race Route